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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 24: Truth is Paradoxical

 Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. John 11:25c-26a

A paradox is something that seems contradictory to popular opinion or common sense. The good news is that paradoxical reasoning does not trouble most of us too often. The bad news is that it should. The Bible is full of paradoxical bits of wisdom – nonsensical statements that seemingly contradict themselves. Jesus was a king of paradox. Here is a sampling:

But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Mark 10:31)

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39

“Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33

Jesus taught with stories, or parables, few of which gave clear answers and many defied common sense. What Jesus understood about truth is that it is inherently paradoxical, and that is a constant obstacle for many of us. Much of what we hold to be true is actually only partially true, or at least not entirely true. We separate light and dark for our own understanding when they are actually manifestations of the same reality. We cannot know darkness without first knowing light, and darkness is simply the absence of light. Other examples of single realities include bliss and sorrow, life and death, right and wrong, good and evil, happy and sad. Each is defined by the other, and neither can be known except in relation to the other. They are two ends of a single continuum, but we treat them as distinct realities. We try our best to be good and are disappointed when we act in not-so-good ways. What we thought to be right turns out to be wrong in another circumstance. What we assumed to be virtuous turns out to be evil from another vantage point. When our sports team wins a game we are excited; but our thrill comes at the expense of fans of the other team who may be devastated. The game is a single reality experienced from two different points of view – one positive and one negative. In his book, Yes, And,…, Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “You and I are living paradoxes, which everybody can see except us.” (p. 391)

Our entire existence is held together by a tension of opposites that characterizes every aspect of our lives. It is nearly impossible for us to reconcile these opposites in a meaningful, understandable way. And therein lies the key to dealing with mysterious realities – we cannot reconcile the paradox. Our challenge is not to solve the mystery but to transcend the seeming enigma and transform our experience and understanding of it.

Chief among the paradoxes we must transcend is our understanding of life and death. Death is an inextricable part of life. Death does not mean the end of life but a new beginning. In his cryptic way, when Jesus tells us we must die in order to live, he is not referring to our physical death. Jesus is speaking of a transformation of our life into one consistent with his. We are not asked to give up our life, physically, but to enter into a new version of that life which transforms our former priorities to new ones. We cannot understand Jesus’ teachings about new life with our traditional understanding of life and death. It is a paradox – an irreconcilable enigma – when seen through our old eyes. Life is more than we can see, hear, feel, and touch with our earthly senses. As we learn to engage our spiritual senses, the formerly paradoxical becomes perfectly understandable.

Truth is paradoxical. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes

Love Rejoices in the Truth

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Paul lists 16 characteristics about love in the second paragraph of 1 Corinthians 13. Eight are positive, or things that describe love, and eight are negative. I find the groupings interesting. He begins with two traits that characterize love, followed by eight qualities that do not, closing with another six positive qualities. It seems to follow a common pattern of worship today – begin with a positive, uplifting tone, move to something more somber, and then end on a positive, encouraging note.

That “love rejoices in the truth” may seem obvious, at least at first. After all, why would love rejoice in a lie? Yet, what poses as “truth” is often harsh. Truth may take the form of a significant other being a little too honest with us, or a boss providing an all-too-candid performance review. In her book, Lean In, Cheryl Sandburg writes, “Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest. Speaking truthfully without hurting feelings comes naturally to some and is an acquired skill for others.” When we consider love in relationships, we often need to be “delicately honest” with the truth – not that we should lie, but there are many ways to speak the truth in an unloving manner. When we speak truth without a perceptible love behind it, we simply make the other person defensive, or worse. Once that happens, the opportunity for a meaningful and healthy dialogue is likely lost, at least for a time.

On the other hand, Jesus says, “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Knowing the truth is supposed to be a freeing experience, but it seems contradictory to our experience to say the truth will always make us free. Is it always best to know how another truly feels about us? Is that truth? Is it best to know where we stand with our boss, or how our abilities rate against others? Probably, but that is not necessarily truth. It is best to know these things when we first know we are loved and accepted as we are and not judged for what we are not. In an unloving environment, knowing the “truth” will not be a freeing experience at all. We will not rejoice – we will be devastated. The truth is found in the knowledge that who and what we are is good enough for love and acceptance as a child of God – only then will the truth set us free. As a result of that truth, relationships become more genuine, love based in truth thrives, and there is much rejoicing! The Truth is that we are loved with an eternal, freeing, undeserved love that is beyond all comprehension, and for that we can rejoice!

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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The Truth about Truth

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  John 8:31-32

When I first learned the truth about fertilizer, I was aghast. How could something so good and necessary for healthy plants come from such nasty raw materials? As our home was being built, I watched as the exposed lumber, nails, pipes, and wires that form the shell of our home were covered over, the dirt and debris removed, and a beautiful home took shape from its messy, ugly beginnings. In Government class, my instructor taught “If you love breakfast and love your country, never watch sausage or laws being made.” Having had the opportunity to witness the law-making process, I wholeheartedly agree.

We uncover truth not as a destination but as a journey. Parts of most worthwhile journeys are difficult, and often unpleasant, even though the end may be beautiful. Jesus says the truth will make us free. Just because we know the truth, however, and just because the truth makes us free does not mean knowing the truth makes our lives easier. In order to get beyond whatever holds us in bondage, we must first experience, understand, and acknowledge the sometimes-hurtful realities that lead us to truth.

In his booklet The Servant as Leader, Robert Greenleaf writes, “Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite. It is a disturber and an awakener.” Becoming aware is not necessarily a freeing experience. It is, however, a necessary part of our growth. We cannot begin to understand human behavior without taking a deep dive into the complex and bothersome web of cause and effect that underlies our decision-making. Without acknowledging the good, bad, and ugly of human motivation, however, we will never comprehend the “truths” from which people act, particularly those closest to us.

While knowing the truth makes us free, in one sense, it obligates us to action in another. One can argue that if truth does not motivate us to action, then our understanding of truth is not complete. As we grasp the truth about our world, we can no longer not act. We cannot pretend not to see the desperate circumstances of some of our brothers and sisters.

Significantly, our truths evolve as we grow. My truths are more encompassing today than they once were. Holding lightly to our understanding of truth is a desirable trait. Jesus tells us to continue in the way of discipleship, and we will know the truth. That implies the journey to truth is a lifelong road. It requires an expansive perspective. The minutia of life blocks the view of truth because truth is a product of the forest, not the trees.

Come home to church this Sunday. Building a beautiful life can get ugly at times.

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Higher Truth and Endless Peace 

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Councilor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace…  Isaiah 9:6-7a

The theme for the 2nd week of Advent is Peace, and I have been doing a lot of thinking about peace, lately. I participate in a number of national discussions relating to my profession, and the debates are not always civil. In fact, some of the comments become downright nasty. It is in this context of disagreement that I contemplate peace.

In my opinion, for peace to exist between two or more people (or countries), there must first be a foundation of mutual respect, as well as an acknowledgement that all points of view have value. I do not have to agree with someone to co-exist peacefully with them. I do not even have to like them. I do have to accept their right to believe as they do, however. It is clear to me that our core differences are exposed by what we cannot discuss civilly. Peace cannot be present when one or both sides are defensive. We become defensive when we feel threatened. As long as another person’s point of view on a particular topic threatens me, we will be unable to have a peaceful or productive discussion on the topic. Rather, we will argue about it. When defensiveness enters a conversation, minds slam shut. When minds slam shut, there can be no dialogue, because true dialogue requires giving and receiving. Closed minds cannot receive.

An open mind is willing to hear and consider alternate points of view. Open minds create opportunities to discover higher truths. A higher truth is one that encompasses both original points of view, but goes farther than either goes alone. It does not deny the truth of the individual thoughts, but it includes and then moves beyond them. This higher truth, once reached, is not threatening to either party since it includes what was important to both. Higher truths allow for civil interaction between people and countries. Only by doing the work to discover higher truths will we know peace in our lives or world.

Jesus modeled higher truths throughout his ministry. He accepted his followers as they were and sought to raise them up to his level. Consider the woman caught in the act of adultery, who was about to be stoned to death (John 8). Jesus invited those without sin to cast the first stone – and no stones were thrown. He pointed out the higher truth that all are sinners. Jesus intentionally sought out those that society rejected in order to bring them into his circle of life. The prophet Isaiah wrote about the authority of Jesus hundreds of years prior to Jesus’ birth, describing how his authority would grow continually and bring endless peace. We cannot imagine this type of peace in our deeply divided world. We can, however, follow the example of Jesus and seek higher truths that accept others where they are and lead us all to a higher, more peaceful co-existence.

Come home to church this Sunday. Reaching for higher truths will bring peace.

 

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